One of the Worst Feelings in the World…
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We all have things in our lives that we’d rather soon forget. Whether it be the death of a loved one, losing a job, or being under what feels like a mountain of debt, none of them are terribly fun and have their own set of unique crappy circumstances. I remember when I was under my mountain of credit card debt; it felt like I had a piano sitting atop my chest restricting my breath. The best I could hope for was quick, short breaths because anything else hurt too much; the enormously large amount of debt I owed saw to that.
Sadly, this debt was not because something had happened to me, but was because I was plunking down that credit card like there was no tomorrow. Whether it was a CD, or ten (I know I am dating myself here), a late night snack, or a trip I wanted to take, I was flexing that plastic muscle. I have shared pieces of this in past posts but not the entire picture. I was so close to declaring bankruptcy that it seemed that nothing would change and that the tunnel was just unending darkness with no light at the end of it. Being 15 years removed from this situation, I want to share with you a piece of wisdom if you’re currently experiencing the burden of debt…it IS possible to overcome it.
What is the Easy Thing to do?
During those days where I felt like I had a piano sitting on my chest, I had nightly discussions with my roommates for what seemed like months. My final credit card had gone into collections and they were calling me morning, noon and night. They wanted their money and I completely understand that. I was like a drug addict who wanted the rush of scoring my drug of choice and taking it in. My drug of choice was credit cards and I was treating them like Monopoly money throwing them around without a care in the world.
The easy thing to do was to give up and declare bankruptcy. That option seemed like a pool of fresh water in a barren desert. I foolishly thought that it would solve all of my problems and I could wipe the slate clean and go on to focus on my student loan debt. The problem was this option would cost money, and sadly, I could not even afford the filing fees. I remember asking my roommate in a roundabout way if he would loan me the money and he thankfully shook some reason into me.
While declaring bankruptcy would have been the easy way out, what would it say about me and about my character if I were to just walk away? After all, I am the one who signed the dotted line to get that shiny new credit card and no one held a gun to my head. The onus was on me to walk the fiery coals and not go for the tempting easy way out, but to be a man of my word and work to pay off that debt.
A Paradigm Shift is Needed
The process of paying off my credit card debt was not an easy one by any stretch. It required a complete shift in thinking and a new mentality was needed on my part. I needed to change my mindset of reckless spending to one of restrained living. I had to change my focus from what I did not have to what I wanted in the future and that required a paradigm shift. As an aside, from someone who works in the advertising industry, companies spend literally billions of dollars a year trying to convince you that you “need” something to fill a supposed void in your life. I fell prey to that, in my darkest days, all too often and it works to a certain extent.
It took me realizing that the shiny new whatever rarely made me happy in the long run and while it felt fun to buy something new, my purchases must be made in reason and wisely. This shift in thinking took me from being a spender to being a saver. In the early days it meant that I stayed home, I did what I could to avoid spending money and over time, day by day it became just a little easier. It was that paradigm shift that helped me see the direness of my situation and moved me to change my spend-happy ways.
What Will it Require of Me?
My friend Kathleen wrote a few weeks ago about the stress and stigma that can come with something like credit card debt. I can relate to that stress. I woke up at night in cold sweats because I was so stressed over how I was going to repay this mountain of debt. Added to that I had student loans that were on deferral because I could not afford them. If I had any hair (I shave my hair pretty close to being bald) it would’ve most certainly been pulled out.
What I soon realized was that paying off this debt would require all of me. Not to get all Dave Ramsey on you, but it required the speed of a gazelle. I had to be creative and do anything I could, within reason and legality, to get more money to throw at the debt. I sold my plasma for several months, I sold my TV and I sold my high school class ring in addition to using money received for birthdays to pay off the debt. Slaying this beast of credit card debt required a laser like focus that would kill the beast I alone had created. Looking back this focus took nearly four years of my life to become free of credit card debt.
You may be asking yourself why I am sharing such heavy and personal information on a Monday morning. I share it because I know that there are people who’re struggling with this today. I look at my traffic stats regularly and every day, without fail, some of my most viewed posts are the ones that have to do with repaying debt and saving money. It is pervasive in our society, almost like a rite of passage.
We all seem to either know someone who has dealt with a mountain of debt or we have had to pay one down ourselves. Not everyone has had credit card debt as bad as mine, but many have had debt from things like student loans, medical bills or car loans that they’re either dealing with now or have dealt with in the past. My message to those dealing with debt now is that there IS light at the end of the tunnel. While I do not know each of your personal situations, I do know that there is almost always a way to earn more money and slay that beast of debt.
My message is to keep fighting the good fight and that overwhelming feeling of having a piano on your chest, or a mountain on your shoulders will winnow away over time. There will be times you want to give up, I dealt with that myself. My encouragement to you during those times is to envision what your debt-free life will look like and put your head down to tackle that beast of debt. As a person who is standing on the other end of the tunnel and now, thankfully, free of that piano…it IS worth it and the freedom is like no other.
I am here waiting on the other side for you.
Have you faced a mountain of debt? How did you get out from under it?
Photo courtesy of: Andres. Thor
John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.
Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.
Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.
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